Now these things, brethren, I have figuratively transferred to myself and Apollos for your sakes, that you may learn in us not to think beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up on behalf of one against the other. (1 Corinthians 4:6 NKJV)
I measure everything doctrinal by what has been written by the Apostles and Prophets. For me, there are two categories of doctrine, biblical and unbiblical, or orthodox and unorthodox, true and false. We are told several times to hold to the doctrine of the Church as taught by the Apostles, and I can find no ability in those words to expand or develop doctrine beyond that which was found in the 1st century Church.
However, the practices – orthopraxy – of the Church fall into three categories:
We are commanded two sacraments in the New Testament, baptism and the Eucharist, but beyond that and the use of psalms and hymns in worshiping God (Ephesians 5.19; Colossians 3.16; James 5.13) and the fact that the first day of the week was the meeting day (Acts 20.7; 1st Corinthians 16.2), there is very little to nothing else to guide the Christian in daily or weekly ritual life.
A few decades after John had written Revelation, Pliny the Younger wrote,
They were in the habit of meeting on a certain fixed day before it was light, when they sang in alternate verses a hymn to Christ, as to a god, and bound themselves by a solemn oath, not to any wicked deeds, but never to commit any fraud, theft or adultery, never to falsify their word, nor deny a trust when they should be called upon to deliver it up; after which it was their custom to separate, and then reassemble to partake of food–but food of an ordinary and innocent kind.
We know that the Church had a certain and fixed day to meet together, and that they had somewhat of a normal routine, at least those under the persecution of Pliny the Younger. Somehow, they had developed practices not found in the bible.
Recently, I have heard that the idea of an ‘altar call’ ‘cannot be found in the bible.’ Technically that is true, and I will not devote myself to defending the ‘altar call’ usually given at the end of a service in which the sinners, the wayward, or needy are invited to come to the altar; yet, I will post the biblically example that I have seen of what we might call an altar call:
“Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.”
Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?”
Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.”
And with many other words he testified and exhorted them, saying, “Be saved from this perverse generation.” Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them. (Acts 2:36-41 NKJV)
Peter finished his sermon, and the question was asked – what do we do now? Peter answered, and those that had received his word, came forward. Granted, it may not be a ‘traditional’ altar call, but in the end, it has all the hallmarks of one.
But the question is, is the Church allowed to practice something godly that is not in the bible. We return to those three concepts. Biblical are those things, such as the sacraments, which are mandated in the bible, yet for baptism, we do not find the prohibition against baptismal founts or the need for only running water. We just see the command. The same is said for the Eucharist. We do not know the exact ceremony but we know that it is commanded. Extrabiblical are those things that we develop to carry on those commands, such as baptismal founts for baptism. Unbiblical might be a different formula or requirements of the baptismal candidate that is not found in Scripture which would prevent the baptism from being carried out.
I have been thinking, of course, of those other things that we do which are not exactly found in the bible, but are either used or practiced in our congregations today. Here is a short list:
- Revival, tent or otherwise
- Musical Instruments
- King James Only, or even English Translations
- Sunday School classes
- Youth leaders, ministers, or any other ‘ministers’ not found in Eph. 4.11
- Many forms of Church Government employed today
- Special Songs
- Youth Camps
Granted, that is a short list of things not found in the bible – yet we do these things on a regular and traditional basis. If we can do these things, surely, we can understand that an altar call is not unbiblical but extrabiblical, and that it is a practise developed over time and culture.
As a rejoinder to this, let me state first, that the altar call is not the point of the service, nor should people be expected to wait until the end of the service to pray to or to seek God. There are times when saints need to be shaken away from their extrabiblical concepts, but we must remember, extrabiblical is not unbiblical.